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Science and Technology- for what?



Dr.C.S. Weeraratna

The World Science Day falls on 10th Nov. 2020. This article highlights the need to utilize Science and Technology to solve the critical issues the country is facing,


We Sri Lankans face many critical problems. Among these are


* Rapid spread of the virus COVID- 19 in 24 districts.

* Chronic Kidney disease of unknown etiology which is affecting nearly 200,000 people in 10 districts

* Water shortage in many parts of the country.

* Landslides mainly in Badulla, Kandy, Mathale, and Nuwara Eliya districts ,

* High cost of production in the plantation and non-plantation (domestic) sector Poverty

* Effective disposal of solid waste,

* Malnutrition mainly among children and

* Unemployment/under employment

A wide Trade Deficit


We have thousands of scientists specialized in various fields and they have an important role to play in developing Science and Technology (S&T) for the benefit of the people and the country. A primary objective of use of S&T in a developing country such as Sri Lanka must be to conduct appropriate studies on the critical issues and advice the authorities on relevant action to be taken.. It was as far as back as in 1978 that the first policy statement on S&T for the country was developed with the involvement of late Professors Stanley Kalpage and Cyril Ponnamperuma. This was followed by the S&T Development Act passed by the Parliament in 1994. Since then a number of organizations were established to promote S&T in the country, Among these organizations was the National Commission on Science and Technology (NASTEC) established in 1998 with the powers to function as a policy advisory body on S&T. NASTEC developed an integrated action plan in collaboration with the scientific institutions in the country. However, this action plan did not come into fruition due to reasons beyond the control of NASTEC. In 2013, a new organization called the Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) was established to coordinate, monitor the progress and implement the strategy. In addition the National Science Council now called National Science Foundation (NSF), the Council for Agricultural Research Policy (CARP), Agrarian Research and Training Institute (ARTI) etc were established to promote S&T . Thus, we have so many organizations on S&T but there appears to be no effective strategy to use S&T for the social and economic development of the country.

Most of the South and South East Asian countries during the last two decades, developed substantially by effective use of Science and Technology (S&T). They based their development policies, and strategies on science, technology and innovations. In Sri Lanka there are numerous organizations which are expected to conduct/promote research. Among these organizations are the 15 universities, National Science Foundation, the Council for Agricultural Research Policy, Agrarian Research and Training Institute, Institute of Fundamental Studies, National Research Council of Sri Lanka etc. which use a considerable amount of scarce financial resources. However, these organizations appear to have not made any significant contribution to find solutions to the issues indicated above. Research efforts need to be directed more towards those issues, which have a direct/indirect impact on the economy and people of the country.

Conducting research alone will not lead to economic development unless the technologies developed by research are made use or commercialized. The scientific organizations such as Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, Dept. of Agriculture, universities etc. hold annual scientific meetings, at which the findings of research are presented. Papers are read, but there appears to be no effective strategy to utilize the recommendations/ research findings presented. . The issue of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) is a case in point. Nearly 200,000 people in 10 districts are reported to be affected by CKDu. The direct and indirect effects of CKDu on the socio-economy of the country are substantial. A number of seminars/symposia on CKDu hve been conducted during the last few years. A few years ago, a meeting (an expert consultation) organized by the World Health Organization(WHO) and Presidential Task Force on CKDu was held in Colombo. This meeting was attended by 54 local and international experts. A few millions would have been spent on this activity. The participants had discussions for 3 days and came out with 27 recommendations but there appears to be no outcome of this meeting. The authorities are concerned in conducting more and more seminars/workshops and symposia without any plan to effectively utilize the findings/conclusions. As indicated at the beginning of this article, while our neighboring countries are showing rapid development, we lag behind for lack of systematic use of S&T.

Organizations such as the Industrial Development Board, the Board of Investments etc. need to coordinate with the relevant scientific organizations to attract investments on commercialization of proven technologies. Vidatha Centers have been established in many DS Divisions to commercialize S&T. Perhaps the relevant organizations may look into what extent these Vidatha Centers have been effective in commercializing S&T.

There are ministers who are expected to address these issues. They need to collaborate with the relevant institutions to find practical solutions to the problems affecting the country. Landslides causing death to a large number of people and destruction to property is evident in many parts of the country. Rainfall of high intensity and erosivity, and inappropriate land management practices are the main factors attributable to landslides causing enormous damage to life and property. It is necessary that preventive action is taken . There is an expert committee under the Ministry of Environment to advice the Ministry on issues related to land degradation. But, this ministry has not called a meeting of this committee for the last few years to discuss and decide what actions need to be taken to control landslides.


High costs in the agricultural sector:

One of the main issues in the agriculture sector is high cost of production. This is partly attributed to cost of fertilizers and pesticides on which we spend around Rs. 40 billions annually to import. However, not much attention appears to have been paid on using bio- fertilizers and bio- pesticides which can be manufactured locally and which are less expensive. A number of compounds such as nicotine, pyrethrin and azadirachtin of plant origin have insecticidal properties, and can be effectively used to control some insect pests. These organic compounds are present in locally grown plants. Development of pesticides from those local plants and promoting their use in controlling pests, would reduce costs and also provide employment in the rural areas. But the relevant authorities appear to have not taken action to get the experts involved in implementing appropriate action. Eppawela Apatite (EA), a mineral containing phosphorus, was discovered a few decades ago. Still we grind this mineral and use the ground apatite as a P fertilizer while spending millions to import Single Superphosphate and Triple Super Phosphate, which can be manufactured from EA.


Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science

Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) the premier scientific body in the country has a membership of about 4000 representing various fields such as Medicine, Agriculture and Forestry, Biological, Physical, Social Sciences etc. SLASS can do a very valuable service to the country in relation to S&T by coordinating with the thousands of scientists in the association. However, SLAAS is unable to carry out this service effectively due to short of funds. While the ministers and other politicians spend millions to import luxury cars, the activities of this premier scientific organization in the country is hampered by inadequate funds.



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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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